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May 31, 2007

The friend of my friend is my enemy

American Jews who care about Israel constantly face certain unpleasant realities.

For one thing, Jews are at most 2% of the American population, probably less -- a situation that (contrary to the delusions of the "Israel Lobby" conspiratorialists) gives them only a modest influence on American policy. For another, large sectors of the Jews' traditional alliance of liberal to leftist groups are harshly anti-Israel.

This situation leaves Jews with a question: When politically conservative, religious Christians offer their support for Israel, should Jews accept it?

Right now, you're probably thinking "Duh!" because that's the clear answer. Of course Jews should accept it. We don't have a lot of friends, and there's little doubt that conservative Christians truly support Israel. Menachem Begin understood this and was more than happy to greet Christian support with open arms.

But some Jews are morons.

Let me put this a little less provocatively: Some Jews think their left-wing political views are far more important than support for Israel.

In the current Washington Jewish Week, Rabbi Amy Schwartzman of Temple Rodef Shalom in Falls Church, makes precisely such an argument against accepting conservative Christian support for Israel.

You've heard the saying, "The enemy of my enemy is my friend?" Well, Rabbi Schwartzman flips that saying around and argues, "The friend of my friend is my enemy."

She writes: "I was deeply disturbed to learn that my rabbinic colleagues recently joined the Rev. Jim Hutchens, regional director of Christians United for Israel, at their gala event." Calling these folks "extreme right-wing Christians" and "extremist fundamentalists," she says that by working with them to support Israel, we are legitimating them somehow:

When we work with these people, we legitimize them as political players, strengthening their impact on agendas we find anathema -- from their opposition to First Amendment's guarantees of religious freedom to their callous opposition to programs most critically needed by the poorest among us.

The only issue on which we agree with CUFI's extremist fundamentalists is our shared support of Israel. They spend most of their time working hard to oppose the priorities and interests of the majority of American Jews.
Let me restate her argument. Although conservative Christians support Israel, that support pales in comparison with their opposition -- their "callous" opposition -- to poverty programs that have been tried for decades and failed. (Well, at least she didn't mention abortion rights, which is usually the top "Jewish" issue for the Left.)

Quickly, her three other arguments. One, Christians proselytize. "Teenagers regularly share with me the pain they experience when their peers from the youth-arm of the extreme religious right question their religious legitimacy and challenge their beliefs." Is she serious? Anyone who's religious constantly has his beliefs challenged by atheists. Why not by Christians? Instead of encouraging these kids to whine, she should be teaching them to defend their religious beliefs, assuming they have any. At a minimum, they should learn to say "No" politely to any attempt at proselytizing.

Two, conservative pro-Israel Christians are hostile to Muslims. I guess it's OK to call Christians extremists but not Muslims.

Three, my personal favorite:
Most mainstream Christians, our neighbors and colleagues whose support for Israel we are striving to secure, reject the leaders of CUFI. They see their ministers as charlatans. We risk our relationship with those potential religious partners when we associate with Rev. Hutchens and his ilk.
"Mainstream Christians" are decidedly anti-Israel. Rabbi Schwartzman is saying that we should forsake people who support us in order to try to gain support from people who hate us. The perfect response to this insanity comes from Rabbi Jack Moline of Congregation Agudas Achim in Alexandria (with whom I often disagree). In counterpoint, Rabbi Moline writes:
Politically, I find the most in common with mainline Protestants. But they are unreliable advocates for a safe and secure Israel. And for me, Israel is a bottom line issue.
He tells this story:
For many years, I have been positively engaged with the Episcopal Church in both Virginia and D.C. I was asked to sit on a panel at the Washington National Cathedral with then Middle East Bishop Riah H Abu El-Assal. His assertion, as I called for cooperation, that "Jesus hung on the cross for only three days; the Palestinians have hung there for 40 years" was about as anti-Semitic a remark as I had ever heard. It was greeted by applause from the crowd and silence from my hosts.
In contrast with these left-wing Christians, Rabbi Moline has found unshakable support on the right:
I am grateful for the unflinching support that many in the evangelical community have offered the state of Israel. And I am humbled to discover that many of my prejudices about these devoted Christians are wrong.
That is exactly how Jews should feel in these circumstances. It's mind-boggling that we're even having this debate.

(Included in Haveil Havalim #119.)